Vic Falls’ Steam Dinner Train Delights Cape-Dar Traveler

2 Dec
Victoria Falls Dinner Train

Dining Car Wembley, built in 1926. IRT Photo by Bruce Anderson

Victoria Falls is one of the great natural wonders of the world. I’ve seen it four times and never tire of the magnificent views.

But while the Falls has been called “the smoke that thunders,” few are aware that smoke of another kind can be found just across the bridge from the Victoria Falls Hotel in Zambia.

Steam Engine Class 12 of the Royal Livingstone Dinner Train

Steam engine 12th class 204, built by Northern British Locomotive works in the 1930. IRT Photo by Bruce Anderson

Nestled in a remote corner of town next to the Livingstone Railway Museum is the Royal Livingstone Express, a true throwback to the days of Rhodesian Railways’ passenger services. I had a chance to sample this vision of the past during my recent Rovos Rail trip to Dar Es Salaam with the Society of International Railway Travelers®. The Cape Town – Dar itinerary includes a overnight stop at the Falls.

Rovos groups stay at the Victoria Falls Hotel, on the Zimbabwe side. The hotel is beautiful, but it makes the trek to the dinner train a bit problematic. Getting there — one-way— included two van rides, the purchase of a double-entry visa at the Zimbabwe-Zambia border and a six-mile bus ride. But the trouble and expense are well worth it.

It is indeed quite a train.

Its five cars all have been either restored by or purchased from Rovos Rail. They include a kitchen car and two dining saloons, one of which was the unique, pillared diner “Wembly,” built in 1926. Rounding out the consist are a lounge and, bringing up the rear, an open-platform observation car.

The Royal Livingstone Express Dinner Train

The Royal Livingstone Express Dinner Train. IRT Photo by Bruce Anderson

The train’s route first took us through Livingstone, where the entire township seemed on hand to wave, with the younger set chasing after us as well. We spent the rest of our time spotting elephants as we chugged through Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. True, most of our journey was in winter darkness. But the real attraction was what was happening inside the train.

The train’s two chefs turned out a five-course, freshly prepared meal worthy of a fine dining restaurant. It was served while the train was stopped at the far end of its five-and-a-half-mile run. Our entrée, lamb shoulder, was delicious, with the meat just about falling off the bone. A vegetarian option also was available.

After dinner, drinks were served in the two lounges during the train’s return to Livingstone. Train enthusiasts in our group were treated to the sounds and smell of a Class 12 steam locomotive. For the return trip, it ran tender first, coupled to the back of the train’s observation car. It was just about the closest one can get to a working steam locomotive without actually being on the foot plate.

Cost for the train including transfers (but excluding visas) is $160 U.S. and can be booked through The Society of IRT. Dinner runs usually are made Wednesdays and Saturdays with a minimum of 20 passengers required. Dress code is smart casual. I would highly recommend this unique experience, particularly for a second-time visitor, as I was, who has previously done some of the area’s more well-known tourist activities.

For more information on the Royal Livingstone Express, or on Rovos Rail’s Cape Town – Dar es Salaam tour, call (800) 478-4881 within the U.S. and Canada. Elsewhere, call (502) 897-1725.

5 Responses to “Vic Falls’ Steam Dinner Train Delights Cape-Dar Traveler”

  1. Paul K. Tuhus December 6, 2011 at 12:06 AM #

    Eleanor -

    This sounds like a great addition to the best train trip in the world. You may want to correct a spelling error in the third paragraph, it should be Rhodesian, rather than Rodesian. Hope to be with IRT again soon.

    (2010 traveler on the Trans-Siberian. And a veteran of seven or eight shorter journeys on Rovos Rail.)

    • Owen C. Hardy December 6, 2011 at 4:46 PM #

      Hi Paul: Love to hear from our travelers! We do indeed pride ourselves on our good spelling! Thanks for the correction. And we would love for you to come aboard with us soon. Please be sure to note all the great trips which can be done on this train — it’s not just the Trans-Siberian routing these days. Check out this link and see all the many departures at the top of the page. Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Journeys.

  2. Willie Kate Friar September 1, 2012 at 1:01 PM #

    I did the Trans-Siberian in 2008, fantastic trip of a lilfetime and the
    Blue Train but have not done Rovos. Interested in the Rovos S.African trip but dread the long flights to get to the train.

    • Owen C. Hardy September 1, 2012 at 3:26 PM #

      If you loved the Trans-Siberian and the Blue Train, I suspect you will be equally enamored of Rovos’ “Pride of Africa.” Not sure where you live (USA? Europe?), but many of our clients break up their international flights at a comfortable midway point like Dubai or Abu Dhabi, both of which have direct flights from the USA and Europe and whose national airlines, such as Emirates and Etihad, are top-notch. One of the best values right now is Rovos’ 9-day “African Collage” tour from Pretoria through the Drakensberg escarpment to Durban, then along the Indian Ocean and into Cape Town. Next year’s prices start at 45,000 Rand (about $5,500, U.S.). To truly experience this incredible train – and continent – I’d suggest booking the May 16-24, 2013 African Collage, then adding Rovos’ May 5-13, 2013 trip from Swakopmund, Namibia (the former German Southwest Africa) to Pretoria. Find the itinerary here.

      • Bruce Anderson September 1, 2012 at 3:46 PM #

        I find the flights to South Africa not to be as bad as say to Thailand. As Owen said, I try to break them up. I normally fly through Amsterdam connecting on KLM to S. Africa. Heathrow and Frankfurt work also but are overnight flights. KLM goes during the day.

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